Posted on July 25, 2013 in Countdown

Our National Conversation Has Begun

Yea, we know – Countdown is late this week. But we have a legitimate excuse for why your inboxes were absent our essential weekly publication up until now.

Here is why: 

Last week, we asked you to help us drive a conversation about some of the country’s most pressing foreign policy issues: Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. Our first week of conversation began Tuesday with a robust Twitter chat that included some of the foremost experts and journalists on Egypt and US policy toward the region. Community members from a range of backgrounds, and with a number of viewpoints, also participated to tackle some tough questions like whether the deposition of President Morsi constitutes a coup and what (if any) should the US role be in Egypt. We have a recap of the conversation on Storify so you can take a look. Yesterday, continuing the conversation, we held a Google Hangout to discuss Egypt with a number of guests. Yesterday we also hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill with four prominent experts to discuss what US policy should be toward Egypt, and to release our latest polling on US attitudes toward Egypt post-Morsi (check out the next Countdown item for a more in-depth breakdown of the findings). The briefing, quite frankly, was awesome. It wasn’t a group think session. Our experts, reflecting the complex and contentious nature of events unfolding in Egypt, did not agree with each other on a number of issues including cutting aid and Egypt’s current political landscape. Take a look at our blog and the hashtag #AAIchat for more information on the briefing. So now you know that we weren’t kidding about being busy this week. (If you missed the Twitter chat, Hangout, and the briefing do not fret, there are two more topics being addressed participate in our conversation: Syria and Palestine.) We want you to be involved in both conversations. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and check back on our blog early next week for more information on the next topic: Syria.

Leave Egypt to Egypt

After Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was deposed from office earlier this month, some US lawmakers issued statements calling for aid to be cut to the military. Today, by holding up the delivery of four f-16 fighter jets, the Obama administration signaled to Egypt’s military that the US will not deliver assistance unconditionally. All the while Americans continue to view Egypt less favorably, according to our latest poll. Between 7/12/13 and 7/13/13, Zogby Analytics conducted a survey of 1,014 US likely voters on their attitudes toward Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. The poll was conducted just days after Morsi was deposed. Here’s what we found: Today Egypt has a 26% favorable rating and a 46% unfavorable rating. When you compare the current numbers of overall favorability toward Egypt to data we’ve collected on the same topic going back to 1993, what you find is a perpetual drop in favorable ratings toward Egypt among Americans. In 1993, if you can believe it, Egypt was more popular than Israel. Americans couldn’t say anything bad about Egypt, primarily, we’ll admit, because they just didn’t know anything about Egypt but that really hasn’t changed much since then. Most of what your average Americans citizen knows about Egypt doesn’t extend beyond identifying the Pyramids, Sphinx, or King Tut. But seriously, those are some of the top terms that first come to mind when Americans think about Egypt - these and, oh yea, “sand.” But despite general lack of knowledge about Egypt and their increasingly negative views of Egypt, Americans make an interesting assertion when asked what the US should do about the current situation in Egypt. They say “stay out of it,” an opinion which most Egyptians seem to agree with. At least there is one thing everyone seems to agree on. 

Remembering Our Hero Helen Thomas

We, like many of you, are mourning the the loss of journalist and American icon Helen Thomas. Helen was a true pioneer, opening doors and paving the way both for women and Arab Americans in journalism. Born in 1920 to Lebanese immigrants, and raised in Detroit, Helen Thomas leaves an unparalleled legacy in journalism. She was the first woman to serve as a chief White House correspondent and bureau chief, and the first woman to be a member and officer of the National Press Club, member & President of White House Correspondents Association and the first female member of the Gridiron Club. Helen was known for her fierce, distinctive style of questioning. She tirelessly pushed President after President to justify their policies, including surveillance resulting from the “War on Terror,” the Iraq War, and the U.S.’s  unconditional support for Israel. For her outstanding contributions to journalism, and her ability to contextualize global news stories for the American public, she was awarded the 2003 Spirit of Humanity award by the Arab American Institute Foundation. Her tenacity and fearless pursuit of the truth will inspire journalists and Arab Americans for generations to come. 

Bloomberg Thwarts Efforts to Reign in Profiling

Well, we’re not exactly thrilled these days with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Sometimes Mayor Bloomberg impresses us by standing up for what’s right like he did during the contrived “controversy” of Park 51 in lower Manhattan. But after revelations that the New York Police Department was spying on innocent Arab Americans and Americans Muslims up and down the East Coast, we saw a very different Michael Bloomberg. This week Bloomberg vetoed two bills in New York’s City Council that would increase oversight of the NYPD by establishing an independent Inspector General (IG) and one which would allow citizens to sue for being racially profiled. Both bills were introduced to reign in both the controversial spying program and Stop-and-Frisk, which allows cops to stop and search people they believe are in the process of or about to commit a crime. Bloomberg said both bills “would make New Yorkers less safe.” Interesting assertion when the NYPD spying program hasn’t produced a single lead or terrorism case in its six years of operation. Not to mention that under the Stop-and-Frisk program, police officers continue to wrongfully search nearly 9 in 10 people they stop. The percentages of African Americans and Latinos stopped are about the same each year. To make matters worse, recent press reports have suggested that President Obama may be considering Ray Kelly, Commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD), for the recently vacated position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, formerly held by Janet Napolitano.  Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised Commissioner Kelly, saying, “There is no doubt Ray Kelly would be a great DHS Secretary” and “Kelly’s appointment… would be a great boon for the entire country.” Really? We strongly disagree.

Amash stands up to the Administration on NSA Spying

As the mad scramble to get things done before the August recess is in full swing, Congress was busy kind of addressing some important issues, including war powers and NSA surveillance.  With little debate, the House approved measures yesterday to limit the administration from spending money without congressional authorization on U.S. military operations in Egypt and Syria. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced two amendments that would prohibit the Department of Defense from using funds for any military or paramilitary operations in Egypt and Syria. Both amendments were approved by a voice vote. The House also passed an amendment by Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) that would prohibit military action in Syria if it’s inconsistent with the War Powers Resolution – which requires the president to seek Congressional approval before involving the U.S militarily in Syria. The amendment also applies to instituting a no-fly zone in Syria or the use of U.S. ships to launch attacks on sites in Syria.  We are not sure how John McCain feels about all this.  And in a true act of leadership, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) offered an amendment that would have scaled back the NSA’s blanket collection of Americans’ telephone records. The Obama Administration made a full court press in opposition to Amash's common sense approach.  The amendment unfortunately failed, but by only 12 votes.  After organizing an impressive, bi-partisan group, Amash successfully highlighted that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act gives authority to the government to collect information on only those who are actually the subject of an investigation. It is unfortunate the majority of Amash's colleagues didn't find the courage to support his amendment, which would have simply prevented the surveillance of innocent Americans while allowing the government to use its authority in a more targeted manner. 

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